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The Los Alamos Board of Education unanimously approved a $35.7 million budget for 2013-14 during its meeting Thursday.
The budget plan includes a 2 percent raise for teachers from a combination of state and local funding.
While the raises were expected, there was debate among the board members as to whether or not the seven elementary teachers that retired this year should be replaced.
Though they said the decision was a tough one to make, they ultimately decided not to replace the teachers since budgetary projections showed the board that due to the way the Public Education Department’s school funding formula is set up, they would ultimately stand to lose out on state funding critical to the operation of the school district in the future.
Instead the board opted to use the money it does have to fund a reading coach for the five elementary schools, so the district would not have to discontinue the schools’ reading program.
School Board president Jim Hall said he appreciated the budget committee’s input in helping the board finalize the budget. He also added reassurances that at some point, those teachers will be replaced.
“I appreciate the broad participation we got from the people in the community, staff, teachers and everyone else in putting together this budget,” he said. “I also, apologize, because we sort of came up with the reading teacher change as we were struggling. ...There was a discussion with staff if we should do this and that and maybe add in two more teachers, even though it may well affect the funding for training and education in the future. We have to get a budget in by the thirtieth... I think the feeling of the board was this decision did not violate greatly the decisions and the input from the committee.”
Board member Dr. Kevin Honnell offered his explanation of the vote.
“Somebody had to do it, and I’d like to give my own explanation behind the thinking, too,” he said. “I imagine I speak for all of my colleagues here and everyone in the district in acknowledging the great work that Gerry Washburn (LAPS Human Resources) has done over the last two months in looking over the data in a fresh way in a way that none of us have seen, at least in my association with the board.
“...It showed us that if left to our own devices, if we continued on, looking one year ahead at a time, doing right by the kids, that is our job after all, that in four or five years we are going to find ourselves with these second graders going into middle school with no special programs left. No fine arts, no theater, no Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, no Carmina Burana because our training and experience is going to go down and we’re going to run out of money.
“If we step in now and make some lousy, uncomfortable decisions, ones that will negatively impact kids, that’s why I hate to make this decision, we might be able to save the goose that lays the golden eggs down the road... My thinking behind making this was to bite the bullet and stem the train wreck with difficulty, but before it was too late.”
After the vote was taken, Hall said the board will be digging in its heels in anticipation of next year’s fiscal challenges.
“We have a number of goals, that I want to alert the board, staff and public too,” Hall said. “Our top goal is to maintain and improve the quality of education,” he said. “Next year, we have to deal with some major external changes to our environment, changes that have been imposed by the outside. We have to do it right. If we don’t do it right, there will be long term problems we will have to pay for. We have to look at implementation of Common Core, math adoption, doing teacher evaluations right. I think it’s the board’s every intention to try and do what it thinks is right, so we can go to PED and ask for waivers, prepared to show the numbers and why ours work better.”
Hall mentioned the impact of internal challenges as well. “As Dr. Honnell said, we are and will be in a training and experience trough, and I think we are going to be there for a while.”